Florida lost to Vanderbilt, at home by three scores. That was the Gators’ first loss to the Commodores since 1988 and their first loss to them at home since their initial meeting in 1945. With South Carolina and Florida State still to play, 4-5 Florida not reaching bowl play this year is all but ensured. Losing those two games would make it eight losses in 12 games vs. FBS teams. Not spectacular.
Jeremy Foley, Florida’s AD, said he is “a thousand percent convinced” by Will Muschamp. But having to affirm that says all you need to know. He may be safe this coming offseason but Coach Boom will top everyone’s hot seat list heading into 2014. That’s probably fair.
Here are their records of the last four Florida coaches in games against BCS conference teams during their first three seasons.
Muschamp: 16-13 (16-15 w/losses to FSU, South Carolina)
Muschamp’s best case scenario is finishing a half-game ahead of Ron Zook, who was fired. That’s not a good look, though there are extenuating circumstances.
Injuries have played a decisive role in Florida’s 2013 downfall. The Gators have lost 10 players for the season. Seven of them were starters. Not many teams would weather losing their starting quarterback, their best running back, two offensive line starters, their best defensive tackle and their leading tackler at linebacker well. That’s especially true against Florida’s schedule, which saw the Gators play LSU, Georgia and Missouri away from home in three consecutive games. As Gary Pinkel can attest, health at the right positions can make the difference between hot seat and coach of the year candidate.
Muschamp also inherited a rebuilding project. The Gators were not a good team under Meyer in 2010. Some have speculated he left because he saw what was coming in 2011. Muschamp was, according to sources, “shocked” at the talent level he inherited and not in a good way. Discuss the locker room culture and “circles of trust” to your heart’s content. But, on paper, Muschamp inherited pieces to get the defense rolling quickly – Floyd, Elam, Bostic, Jenkins etc. – and a young offensive line. There were major questions at every skill position.
Quarterback has been a presistent problem. John Brantley was just not a good college quarterback. Jacoby Brissett transferred to N.C. State. Everything has been placed on Driskel. He struggled in 2012, though showed flashes that got some people excited. He did not seem to have progressed much in 2013, before getting knocked out for the season. Neither of Muschamp’s offensive coordinators had him looking like a Top 20 national recruit. Muschamp recruited no quality depth behind him.
Florida has done fairly well with running backs. Demps and Rainey did not fit a power running game. They received a lot of production from Mike Gillislee in 2012. They have two promising young backs in sophomore Matt Jones, when healthy, and 2013 five-star Kelvin Taylor. Players there would look better if the passing game gave opposing defenses any reason not to stack fronts against it.
Wide receiver has been mostly the same story it was late in the Meyer era. Huge recruiting names coming in. Little development or output. The Gators brought in five receivers in last year’s class. Solomon Patton has already stepped forward as Florida’s most productive wideout. Joker Phillips has been looking for more players to join him. But it’s still a work in progress.
Florida’s offense has regressed markedly each of Muschamp’s three years, from 67 in yards/play in 2011 to 92nd in 2012 to 112 through nine games this year. Both offensive coordinator hires have been questionable. Florida missed an opportunity to bring in top-tier skill talent in 2012. Going two classes without landing a top-caliber quarterback can be suicidal in this era of top-level college football. Noteworthy: Florida has three 247 Top 50 recruits committed for 2014. Those are a running back, a wide receiver and a pro-style quarterback.
Muschamp’s situation resembles Rich Rodriguez at Michigan in 2010. He’s a defensive specialist at an offensive school. Offense is what is keeping Florida from being a successful (and watchable) football team. The question is whether you trust Muschamp to oversee a third staff overhaul in four years and put forth an offense that will get production from the talent at hand?
Being an elite strategist on one side of the ball does not make one a great head coach. What distinguishes a Meyer or a Saban, besides game management, is their evaluation of coaches. Both make staff hires that are, for the most part, impeccable. It’s not clear that ability comes with experience. If Muschamp isn’t that guy, at a school that expects to compete for the SEC title every year, that’s a problem.
Florida held on for a rough first year in 2011. The Gators went 12-2, with some notable lowlights, in 2012. Their 2013 year has been ravaged by injuries. We suspect Muschamp will get one more year. He deserves it. Though, if recruits get antsy and the Seminoles dump them by fifty, it’s going to be a very tough decision.